How much do you want the world to know about you persoanlly?
Last November, I decided to write a Remembrance Day post on the subject of my father-in-law's early life and military service in the Second World War. At that point in time, I had known father-in-law for over twenty years, but I don't think I really knew him until I sat down to record some of the details of his life.
My own childhood was comfortable-nothing fancy, but there was always food on the table. As I wrote this short biography, I struggled to imagine what it must have been like to work as a child delivering groceries at 2 cents an order or the extreme poverty that meant his family could not even afford to get him a simple library card.
I sent hours pouring over every sentence in that blog post wanting to make sure that I represented his life and his contribution to the war effort in a way that would make him proud.
When I emailed the polished piece of writing for his blessing, I was surprised by his response.
He was horrified!
"I don't want people to know all those things about me!", he exclaimed on the phone. What was for me a touching tale of his childhood and early career, was for him too private and personal for all the world to know.
Of course I had to respect his wishes, and scrap the piece I had worked so hard on!
I think that as an artist and a blog writer, I had become somewhat accustomed to putting myself out there and even baring my soul just a bit. Foolishly, it hadn't accrued to me that not everyone is willing to do that.
I must confess that there have been times when I myself have begun to wonder if there is even such a thing as privacy in this modern age.
Buy a simple magazine subscription, and the next thing you know, you have some air duct cleaning company in Toronto hassling you on a daily basis with sales calls.
It doesn't matter how many times you tell them that you have a boiler not a furnace, and that there are no air ducts to clean...they keep on calling every evening.
All these thoughts came back to me last weekend when I found myself standing in front of the deeply personal paintings of artist Frida Kahlo.
My days of late have not been my own, so a completely selfish afternoon planned around a visit to the Art Gallery of Ontario was something I had been looking forward to for weeks.
Not even a grey and dismal day could dampen my mood.
Self-Portrait of Diego Rivera from the AGO website
At the moment, the gallery has on a wonderful exhibit of artwork by Mexican artists Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera.
Diego Rivera was the more celebrated of the two artists during their lifetimes. Over the years however, the prominence of Diego's work has receded somewhat in favour of that of his wife Frida. I have a theory as to why that is: Frida Kahlo's her artwork is open and honest that it is impossible not to be touched by it. While Diego's paintings are a magpie of different artistic styles, while Frida's paintings are uniquely her own.
Academically trained, Diego Rivera was certainly the more technically proficient artist.
Self-portrait by Freda Kahlo from the AGO exhibit
Kahlo was self-taught. She completed fewer than 150 small works- mostly self-portaits and still-lifes before she died at the age of 47.
The bulk of her paintings are intimate in scale; you could easily tuck them under your arm and walk out of the gallery (although security might take issue if you ever dared to do so).
"I paint my own reality.", Kahlo once famously declared.
At the age of 18, Frida Kahlo was involved in a tragic accident that left her with several broken ribs, a broken pelvis, multiple fractures to he right leg and foot, and a spine that was broken in three places.
She spent three months recovering in a full body cast and underwent over 30 operations during her lifetime to repair her injuries and to correct the damage caused by several of the botched early surgeries.
Drawn from her tumultuous marriage to Diego, her broken body, and her many miscarriages, Kahlo's paintings are often about pain. In this self-portrait above, a lifetime of struggles is expressed in the nails that pierce her skin, a torn body and exposed spine. Tears flow from her eyes and run down her cheeks.
Kahlo holds nothing back here. She puts her heart and soul onto the canvas.
When it comes to self-expression, most of us are not more hesitant about revealing our inner lives.
Our most earnest wish from childhood is to fit in and be accepted. We carry into adulthood a deep seated fear of judgement and even recrimination.
Who doesn't want to be seen in anything but the best light?
Add to those concerns is the fact that no man or woman is an island. It is one thing to put yourself out there, it is quite another to drag your family into the spotlight along with you.
When you write for the internet, how personal do you get? Do you dare mention first names of your loved ones?
Let's face it, the internet can be a scary place at times.
The requests for help that pop up in my email inbox each day are a reminder of that.
And I would be a very wealthy woman if I could ever claim the vast sums of money I have supposedly been sent or inherited!
When it comes to my blog, there are also disturbing reminders in the daily onslaught of bogus "Anonymous" comments:
"Hey, dude! Assume blog. I really like your article. I am going to visit on a regular basis. Be sure to check out my website: somethingpornographic.com"
I think I may have to enable comment moderation in the new year.
Then... just when you start to question the sanity of ever getting personal on the internet again, you come across a piece of writing that is so honest and heartfelt that it can't help but move you to tears.
The writing was so crystal clear that you feel as if you are standing right there in that kitchen, pealing apples for a pie, and listening to the hushed conversation between a mother and her only son.
The dilemma with which any artist, writer or blogger must wrestle is that sometimes we are at our very best when we are at our most vulnerable.